US President Barack Obama has arrived in Prague for an EU-US summit hosted by the Czech presidency on April 5th. The President and First Lady were welcomed at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport by President Vaclav Klaus and outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek before being taken to Prague’s Hilton Hotel where they will be spending the night.
On Sunday morning President Obama will be received with honours at Prague Castle where he will briefly hold talks with the Czech president and prime minister before delivering his first public address in Europe since his inauguration. The speech is expected to focus on the threat posed by nuclear weapons proliferation.
In the afternoon the president will attend the EU-US summit together with the leaders of the 27 member states. He is also expected to meet with the former Czech president Václav Havel before leaving for Ankara in the late afternoon.
A no-fly zone with a radius of 50 kilometres will be imposed in the skies over Prague during American President Barack Obama’s visit. Only air-traffic with special dispensation will be allowed to fly over the Czech capital between Saturday lunchtime and midnight on Sunday, a spokesperson from the Czech army told journalists. Army planes and helicopters will be used as part of the security measures implemented especially for the American president’s visit. Thousands of Czech police have been drafted in to protect the president, and American security services will also be on duty.
According to the AFP news agency, Prime Minister Topolánek hopes to persuade US President Barack Obama not to abandon plans for a controversial missile shield project in central Europe initiated by his predecessor president Bush. The project involves siting missile defence components in the Czech Republic and neighbouring Poland. AFP says that Washington’s new policy of dialogue with Moscow has increased anxiety among the former communist bloc states who were hoping that the project would tie them more firmly to the West.
Ahead of the US president’s arrival, some 300 opponents of the plan to site a US tracking radar on Czech territory held a protest gathering on Prague’s Palach Square and the Legionaries’ Bridge on Saturday, unfurling a banner that read “Yes, we can - say no to the radar”. More demonstrations are expected on Sunday. Opinion polls suggest that the majority of Czechs are against the idea of hosting a US radar on Czech soil.
The United States has formally asked the European Union to accept former prisoners from Guantanamo, and has promised to provide all necessary information, the EU commission said on Friday. Despite a great deal of reticence, the European Union has indicated that some member states would be ready to accept former prisoners on a case-by-case basis. EU Immigration Commissioner Jacques Barrot and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer travelled to Washington last month to seek more detailed information from the US authorities. The Czech side has so far not indicated a willingness to comply with the request. The issue is expected to be discussed at the EU-US summit in Prague on Sunday.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately on Saturday evening, according to the CTK news agency. Ms.Clinton is in Prague with U.S. President Barack Obama for the EU-US summit. Hillary Clinton knows Vaclav Havel from the days when her husband, then U.S. president Bill Clinton met with the former Czech head of state.
Czech dailies on Saturday published an open letter to US President Barack Obama and European Union leaders, protesting a recently introduced law they say restricts press freedom. The law, which took effect April 1 prohibits the publication of police wiretappings and bans media from naming the victims of crimes. Sentences for breaking the legislation dubbed "muzzle law" run to five years behind bars and fines of up to five million crowns (225,000 dollars). The dailies said they’d published the open letter in order to highlight the problem and trigger a discussion on the necessity of freedom of speech.
Czech political leaders have reported progress in talks on setting up a caretaker government which would rule the country until early elections planned for the autumn. Representatives of the ruling coalition and the opposition Social Democrats said following talks late on Friday that an agreement on the composition of the proposed cabinet could be ready by Sunday evening and would be presented to the president on Monday. The ruling parties and the opposition were forced to cooperate on producing a new government after President Klaus said that he would not consider naming a prime minister designate anyone who did not have majority support in the lower house. The alternative is that President Klaus himself would put together a transitional cabinet of his own choice. The caretaker cabinet now being compiled by the coalition and opposition parties is likely to consist of career diplomats and non-partisan experts.
British film director Mike Leigh was awarded the Kristian prize for his contribution to world film at the closing ceremony of the Prague part of 16th International Festival Febiofest on Friday night. The festival featured Mr. Leigh’s latest film Happy-Go-Lucky, which premiered in April 2008 starring Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan. Altogether the festival featured 214 films from 58 countries, seen by around 70,000 film fans. It will now continue outside of Prague in eight Czech towns.
Czech winger Vladimír Šmicer told journalists on Friday that he was getting ready for a knee surgery at a prestigious clinic in Antwerp, Belgium. He said he would decide on his future based on the result. Šmicer, who has had knee cartilage problems since a winter training camp and has not appeared in a single game in the spring, said he had already visited the Antwerp clinic for a pre-op check-up on Wednesday. The 2005 Champions League winner with Liverpool has played 81 matches and scored 27 goals for the Czech national team in 1993-2005. Šmicer made history by scoring at three consecutive European championships -- in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
Sunday may bring overcast skies and some rain showers but the weather is expected to remain mild and next weeks temperatures should be back in the twenties.